Mojave Air & Space Port New Year’s Greeting By Stuart O. Witt
Happy New Year!
On January 1, 1914 America entered the commercial air service arena with a flight that lasted just a few minutes and carried one passenger sitting on a wood seat across a short distance in south Florida. Today millions of passengers will board commercial aircraft and statistically all will reach their destination safely, in large part because of the robust industry in which we are a central participant.
Things occurred in the first 100 years of commercial air travel that no one could have predicted 100, 80 or even 70 years ago. If you asked anyone in 1925, “Within the next 70 years will people board a pressurized aircraft powered by jet engines and be fed steak and lobster, watch the latest movies or television while talking via telephone to their home or office?” they would have laughed in your face. But it did happen and the quality of life for all people has grown exponentially with our industry.
Editor’s Note: In Part 1, we took a look at the highly successful year that all three U.S. launch providers had in 2013. Today, we will look at the challenges ahead for each company.
Coming off a stellar year, each of America’s three launch providers — Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) — finds itself in a distinctly different place and facing unique challenges. The coming year could begin to significantly remake the global launch market, with significant consequences for all three players and rival providers overseas.
Continuing our look at U.S. launch vehicles, we turn our spotlight onto Orbital Sciences Corporation. Although the Virginia company is traditionally a supplier of small launch vehicles, it recently made the leap to medium-lift rockets.
Orbital currently operates four launch vehicles:
Pegasus, an air-launched solid-fuel vehicle for small satellites;
Taurus, a land-based variant of the Pegasus booster with a decommissioned Peacekeeper ballistic missile used as the first stage;
Minotaur, a family of small solid-fuel launchers that uses a mixture of decommissioned Peacekeeper and Minuteman II ballistic missile stages and Pegasus and Taurus technology; and,
Antares, a new medium-class, liquid-fuel booster developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program that will launch Cygnus freighters to the International Space Station.
The company also is developing a new air-launched rocket nicknamed Pegasus II for Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems company. This new medium launch vehicle is set to make its debut flight in 2016.
Let’s now take a closer look at Orbital’s programs. The launch history tables below are adapted from Wikipedia.
HUNTSVILLE, ALA., June 3, 2013 (Stratolaunch PR) – Stratolaunch Systems today announced that space technology leader Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) will join its team to develop, build and operate the redesigned Stratolaunch air-launch rocket system. Orbital’s involvement is key in realizing Stratolaunch System’s vision to provide orbital access with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility.
MOJAVE, CALIF., March 27, 2013 (Stratolaunch PR) – Stratolaunch Systems today opened a new hangar that will eventually house the world’s largest aircraft during the assembly and testing stages, the aerospace development company announced.
The hangar opening brings Stratolaunch Systems one step closer to its goal of delivering a breakthrough air-launch system that provides safe, flexible, and affordable orbital access to space.
The 103,257-square-foot hangar is one of the two Stratolaunch facilities built at Mojave Air and Space Port to accommodate construction of the system’s carrier aircraft. The other Mojave facility, a 88,000-square-foot fabrication facility, opened in October 2012 and is currently used to manufacture the aircraft’s wing and fuselage sections. Both facilities were constructed by Bakersfield, Calif.-based Wallace and Smith General Contractors.
The carrier aircraft, developed by Stratolaunch partner Scaled Composites, will take off like a conventional plane before releasing the system’s rocket which will launch medium class payload to orbit. As the largest aircraft ever constructed, it will use six 747 engines, weigh more than 1.3 million pounds, and have a wingspan of more than 380 feet.
“Stratolaunch has made significant progress over the past year and a half, and the new hangar allows us to keep that momentum going so that we can hit our first test flight in 2016,” said Gary Wentz, CEO and President of Stratolaunch Systems.
Stratolaunch Systems, founded in 2011 by philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen, is based in Huntsville, Alabama.
Ever wonder just how big the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft will be when it gets built? This picture provides a pretty good idea.
That’s one of the two Boeing 747-422 jetliners that Scaled Composites is stripping for parts parked in front of the Stratolaunch hangar in Mojave. The white doors show the outline with clearance of the Stratolaunch aircraft, which will have a 385-foot wingspan.
It makes that 747 look pretty small, doesn’t it? And that plane is the third largest civilian jetliner ever built behind the 747-800 and the Airbus A380.
It will be really interesting to see the Stratolaunch rolled out of that hangar a few years from now. Carbon Goose? Space Goose? Birdzilla? I don’t know if those nicknames will be adequate once this thing starts flying.
Stratolaunch Systems has tweaked the design of its carrier aircraft to look less like a 747 and more like…something else entirely. The nose and cockpit resemble the Concorde — but that’s where the comparisons end. The old design is below.
A shout out to Dan Leone at Space News for spotting the change.
FALLS CHURCH, Va., Jan. 31, 2013 (Scaled Composites PR) — Scaled Composites, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation, announced today that it has named Kevin Mickey president and Cory Bird vice president, effective immediately.
“Kevin and Cory have been instrumental in keeping the trains of innovation moving for over 20 years,” said Paul Meyer, vice president and general manager of Advanced Programs Development at Northrop Grumman. “I am confident in their ability to continue the great work that started it all, bringing ingenuity and perseverance to realize concepts never before thought possible.”
Forbes has released its annual list of the world’s billionaires. There are a record 1,426 individuals with an aggregate net worth of $5.4 trillion in the world. The table below shows the tiny handful of this group — nine individuals — who are currently or have been previously involved in space projects.
NASA is still reviewing options on what to do with the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), which has been largely idle since the last space shuttle touched down 18 months ago.
“Regarding your request for the Shuttle Landing Facility, NASA is currently assessing responses to the recently published Request for Information (RFI) seeking to identify entities that may be interested in maintaining and operating this National Asset,” NASA Associate Administrator L. Seth Statler wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. “A decision regarding the disposition of this asset will follow the completion of the RFI response assessment and review of the Space Florida proposal.”
During recent public talks, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan has bemoaned the lack of recent rocket development in the United States. After the initial burst of creativity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, decades went by with very few new rockets being developed. He has also pointed to Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo, SpaceX’s Dragon and Stratolaunch Systems air-launch project (which he worked on for 20 years) as the only serious developments in the field at present.
My first thought was: Burt’s wrong. There’s a lot more going on than just that. Including developments just down the flight line in Mojave that he somehow fails to mention. And my second thought was: well, just how wrong is Burt, exactly?
Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems is eying the Kennedy Space Center as its base of operations, beginning with a demonstration flight of the air-launch system from the former Shuttle Landing Facility in 2017, CEO Gary Wentz tells Florida Today:
Stratolaunch, which was publicly introduced in December 2011, hopes to provide lower-cost launches by freeing itself from ground-based range infrastructure and weather restrictions and enabling quicker flight turnarounds.
“Stratolaunch and SpaceX have amicably agreed to end our contractual relationship because the current launch vehicle design has departed significantly from the Falcon derivative vehicle envisioned by SpaceX and does not fit well with their long-term strategic business model,” says Gary Wentz, Stratolaunch CEO, in a 27 November email.